Mitsubishi A6M Rei-Sen or Zero, received the official Allied codename, Zeke, and garnered itself an enviable reputation as a primary carrier-borne naval fighter. The capabilities of the famous Japanese fighter aircraft received the focused attention of Allied observers in the Pacific theatre during the early stages of aerial combat, since it was historically the only naval aircraft that shown itself to be superior to its land-based fighter counterparts in its highly sought-after combination of manoeuvrability, speed, and extended range. It served from before the start of the Pacific War until country’s eventual surrender by Japanese representatives aboard USS Missouri on 2 September 1945, where it well used the opportunity to prove its mettle during five years of aerial battles in wartime conflict.
The first prototype A6M Zero saw the light of day on 16 March 1939, and finally took to the skies for the first time on 1 April 1939, initial reception into service occurred on 14 September 1939 when the IJN officially adopted the aircraft as the primary carrier-based aerial fighter. The remarkable speedster saw 10,939 airframe packages built and delivered into service before the end of the Japanese conflict in 1945. The Mitsubishi design and engineering team won out to claim the superior aircraft over the Nakajima engineers who found the design spec too constrictive, it required, amongst other characteristics, a climb rate of 9850 feet to be reached within three and a half minutes.
Jiro Horikoshi penned the design of a monoplane wing assembly mounted to a smoothly contoured whose large featuring a fully enclosed cockpit and fully retracting landing gear. In order to achieve the severely restrictive performance specifications the engineers had to forego all accepted forms of airframe armouring, including self-sealing fuel tanks, this made the aircraft vulnerable in its role as air fighter. In offset this gained it performance advantages over the complete spectrum of performance capabilities making it agile, with a tight turning radius able to out-turn any of the Allied fighters including the latest designs. Additionally one of its weakest points was the extremely limited munitions capacity, a result of further effort to reduce airframe weight. Armament arrived in the form of 2 x 20 mm calibre wing mounted automatic cannons with a further two x 7.7 mm calibre fully automatic machine guns mounted within its engine cowling. A front mounted Nakajima Kinsei radial piston power-plant developing 1560 hp drove a three blade propeller.
By 1943 the Japanese Zero presented much smaller danger and was showing increased vulnerability to enemy fire, to be eventually relegated to the ignominious task of being an aerial bus carrying suicidal young airmen to their deaths during the eventual Kamikaze strike operations. During the closing stages of the Pacific War, from 1943 onwards American naval fighters benefited hugely from toughened armour applied to critical operational components, increased engine horsepower, improved weaponry, as well as newly gained tactics and strategies that arrived in the wake of a captured A6M Zero that was taken to the US for testing and analysis. Subsequent to this the Battle of Midway took place on 5 June 1942, the combination of all the latest improvements to the American fighter planes proved to be critical during this massive aerial conflict with the new with a newly improved American naval fighter aircraft went toe-to-toe against waves of incoming zeros achieving a monumental victory in the process, proving the Zero had officially met its match.